Containing excitement

Israeli expat artist Shay Frisch Peri returns home to exhibit his innovative industrial work.

Campo 82133 N 520 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Campo 82133 N 520
(photo credit: Courtesy)
On February 12, Shay Frisch Peri unveiled Campo 82133 N, which will run at the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art until May 28. Thrilled that more than 800 people turned up for the opening, Frisch Peri says upon greeting me at his studio in Rome’s Trevi Square that the exhibit is “particularly moving” for him. “It marks the first time that I have displayed my work in Israel since I left 22 years ago,” he declares with a broad smile.
Frisch Peri, 47, says that his interest in art and design was haphazard and gradual. “It wasn’t until I finished my military service in the navy, which coincided with the Lebanon war in 1982, that I seriously began thinking about pursuing a career in industrial design. My then girlfriend was studying art at the Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem and I decided that I would apply there too.”
He spent the next two years at Bezalel before opting to finish his studies at the European Institute of Design in Milan in 1988. “I chose to move to Milan, because it was the center for industrial design in the ’80s. Afterward, I continued my studies by doing a master’s at the Domas Academy, which offered an innovative, interdisciplinary approach to industrial design. My experience there not only opened my mind, but prepared me as an industrial designer with an ‘out of the box’ vision.”
Having refined his perspective, he received the Frog Junior Prize in 1990 during his final year at the Domas Academy.
Winning it not only resulted in what Frisch Peri describes as “his first major career break,” but also nailed him a job with the prestigious German-based Frog Design. “I moved to a small German town in the Black Forest 40 miles [64 km.] from Stuttgart, but that experience lasted only a few months. I felt isolated there and immediately came back to Italy.
“It was also during this period – actually the summer before, during a trip to Pantelleria Island – that I met my wife [Maria Teresa Venturini Fendi, granddaughter of Adele Fendi, who founded the world-renowned fashion house] and started working in Milan developing oil water separation systems, before transferring to Rome, where I eventually established my firm Studio Indik in 1993.”
While he works all over the world designing stores for Italian fashion houses such as Blumarine and Anna Molinari, he started developing his own works of art in 1995 after a chance encounter with the Italian gallery owner Plinio de Martiis.
“It was the first time I was invited to participate in an art exhibition. Plinio saw my works in design and perceived some added value in them, which was beyond shape, color, material and ergonomics. Seeing something innovative in my approach, he chose a few works of mine to exhibit and after that I was invited to participate in other art exhibitions.”
As one exhibit led to another, Frisch Peri gradually began to broaden his creative horizons by moving from architecture and design to art. “Today I’m focusing on developing my own works of art almost full-time. And the results of using a model to create fields are those which slowly evolved into what people can now see at the Herzliya Museum.”
In fact, all of his works are entitled campo, field in Italian. “They are called this because they represent energy fields.” And the numbers? “It’s a reference to the components of each work. For example, the installation in Herzliya, which includes wall works and a floor work, contains 82,133 electrical adaptors that are plaited together into large black surfaces with narrow slits emanating pale light: three electrical circuits constructed into simple geometric shapes.” And the letter N? “N stands for nero – black in Italian.”
“What I’m trying to do is to give shape to something that has no shape, which is energy.
Actually, what I’m doing is building containers for electricity. They are like bodies that hold electricity.
“I’m building structures that hold electricity, or energy if you want. They are models made out of electrical components. I plug one to the other to pass electricity through the whole structure. It’s the opposite of what the work – a monochrome – appears to be.
While it seems very still and quiet, it has a second nature, which is internal.
“You can’t see it, but you can feel it because there is electricity moving very fast inside it all the time. So when you’re looking at the static form you can perceive a fast and continuous movement. I’m trying to express this second nature of the work through light. Light is like fire under ashes.
I want to express that there is something burning – something wild happening inside. That’s my intention.
“I can explain further, but I shouldn’t.
Other people should interpret it. There is a corner. There is a wall and a floor. There is a square, a rectangle and a circle.”
“I TAKE INSPIRATION from many artists and different genres of art even if I do abstract and concept art,” says Frisch Peri.
“That said, I am most attached to a genre of art that starts with Kazimir Malevich’s White on White – the first true monochrome abstraction – and then continues throughout the 20th century with artists such as Lucio Fontana, Barnett Newman, Yves Klein, Mark Rothko and Enrico Castellani, an Italian artist who in recent years has gained international recognition.”
And how does he place himself in the context of the art world today? “Overall, I feel like a relatively anomalous artist. I am outside of the mainstream, completely outside of it.”
Mainstream, which the market defines today according to Frisch Peri, entails making an instant impact on people’s senses rather than seizing upon their hidden parts: intellectual and spiritual. “Contrary to all that, my works are mediative exercises.
They are neither meant to target the moment nor really to be seen in crowds, because they are like reflective internal mirrors, which require deep introspection.”
Is there a common theme or themes among all of your works or do they evolve, like you, with time? “No, there’s no common theme. Also, I’m not sure my work has gone through an evolution, perhaps in the last two decades I’ve regressed.”
Really, why? “Well, because I went from creating very sophisticated technological and non-technological objects to developing repetitive, primary geometric forms.”
It doesn’t appear that he has gone through a “regression.” On the contrary, his work has gained the attention of highly recognized and respected figures in contemporary art, such as Achille Bonito Oliva who directed the 45th Venice Biennale and has curated thematic and interdisciplinary exhibitions both in Italy and abroad, including Frisch Peri’s Campo 82133 N in Herzliya.
At home, Frisch Peri has also dazzled major figures, most importantly Miri Ben- Moshe, who first conceived the idea of the exhibiting his works at the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art. Another is Yona Fischer, one of Israel’s most prominent art curators, who together with Yigal Zalmona, chief curator-at-large of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, came to view his exhibition shortly after its opening. Fischer told him that his works were “impressive.”
“This was an incredible compliment from a man I’ve admired for a very long time.”
However, Frisch Peri’s most ardent fans are the members of his family, first and foremost his wife. The couple have five-year-old twins and many common interests ranging from fashion, art and design to issues they care passionately about.
“My wife and myself are very interested in women’s rights, Israel, the Middle East conflict and the Islamization of Europe. Since 2004, Maria Teresa has been involved, along with other members of her family, with No Peace Without Justice and other organizations on a campaign called ‘Stop FMG’ that helps women in Africa and the Middle East fight against female genital mutilation.
“In December 2007, she contributed to the international conference ‘Fighting for Democracy in the Islamic World’ held in Rome that included the participation of figures such as Prof. Bernard Lewis and Natan Sharansky. In addition, she’s part of the committee of The Jerusalem Foundation in Italy. They raise money for all kinds of important projects in the Israeli capital. In November, for example, they did a fundraising event at Rome’s Maxxi Museum where they auctioned off artworks. I wasn’t involved in that apart from donating a work for the auction.”
I conclude by asking what’s the most common misconception that he encounters by Europeans vis-à-vis Israel and/or Israelis.
“The first thing I feel very strongly is that most of the people I meet here in Europe basically think that Israelis came and took Arab land, which frankly speaking is the worst starting point one can have in terms of understanding the conflict. They simply don’t know Israel’s history, and moreover there is a lot of disinformation about Israel in Europe. That said, and this might sound strange, but I believe Israel should help Europe, albeit constructively and positively, to not only stand up for its democratic values, but also to face its own situation of fighting for its identity.”